Britain's first modern nightclub was founded in a basement off Regent's Street in 1912. Named 'The Cave of the Golden Calf', it was an attempt to re-create in London the artistic cabaret theatres of Zurich and Vienna. Its founder was Frida Strindberg, second wife of the Norwegian playwright.
The club attracted the intelligentsia of pre-first world war London. Dramatic Vorticist decorations by Wyndham Lewis and Jacob Epstein provided the backdrop to legendary scenes of drinking and dancing. The club lost money rapidly and closed in 1914.
The 1920s changed London's West End by transforming its nightlife. By the end of the decade, over 50 licensed night clubs were operating around London, many patronised by upper class socialites. Some just provided a dance floor and others offered cabaret. Famous clubs included the Kit Cat club, the 'Bag of Nails' and the 'Coconut Grove'.
Many unlicensed clubs operated on the fringes of the criminal underworld. These 'bottle parties' were frequently raided by the police. The queen of the bottle party was an Irish business woman Kate Meyrick, who became something of a celebrity in the 1920s for her ingenuity in evading the licensing laws.
During the 1920s London's clubs included dancing clubs such as Rectors on the Tottenham Court Road, a favourite with visiting black American musicians. Fashionable clubs for the world of the performing arts, included the 50 / 50 club, owned by gay matinee idol Ivor Novello. It was said that the club's name referred to Novello's ambiguous masculinity.
The Gargoyle Club on Meard Street was a regular haunt for artists and aristocrats. Founded in 1925 by David Tennant , it had a four piece orchestra, and glamorous interior decorations, some by Henri Matisse.
London's main centres for night clubs from the mid-twenties up until the end of the second world war were Soho, Mayfair and Fitzrovia, which took its name from the Victorian pub on the corner of Charlotte and Windmill Streets. Famous Soho clubs included the Hambone Club, the Cosmopolitan and the Colony Room, founded by the autocratic and tempramental Muriel Belcher in 1948.
Belcher created an ambience that suited those who thought of themselves as misfits or outsiders. By the 1960s 'Muriel's Boy's' included the artists Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Michael Andrews and Frank Auerbach.
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